Wednesday, June 01, 2005

June 1, 2005: Edmonton Journal Reports: Grewal Releases Tapes and Transcript Implicating PM

Martin in the loop on talk of deal-making with Tory: Grewal releases tape transcripts, Liberals want them verified
Edmonton Journal
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Page: A5
Section: News
Dateline: OTTAWA
Source: The Canadian Press; with files from CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - Senior Liberals discussed everything from Senate seats to cabinet posts to woo a Conservative MP, but secret recordings suggest much of the negotiation revolved around how to hide the horse-trading from the public.

"I'm sure rewards are there at some point, right?" Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh assured Tory Gurmant Grewal, according to transcripts of Grewal's surreptitious tapes released Tuesday.

"No one can forget such gestures, but they require a certain degree of deniability."

Minutes after the transcripts -- which have not been independently verified -- were released to the public and the RCMP, Prime Minister Paul Martin rose in the House of Commons and denied Grewal was offered anything in return for his support on a crucial confidence vote May 19.

"I have ... talked to the ministers of the government and the statement is absolutely clear: no offer was made; an offer was solicited (by Grewal)," Martin said during question period. "No offer was made, and that is the truth."

Later, at an unrelated news conference, Martin said he was "obviously informed" of the talks between Grewal, his chief of staff Tim Murphy, and Dosanjh, but only after Grewal approached the government looking for a cabinet job for himself and another post for his wife, Nina, also a Tory MP.

"There is a credibility issue, and it is not with the members of my staff or my government," said Martin. "From what I've been told about today's tapes ... there is doubt about the adequacy and veracity of the translation (from Punjabi)."

Yet the transcripts clearly show that Murphy and Dosanjh were deeply embroiled in negotiations with Grewal in the days before the May budget vote -- and suggest Martin was fully apprised of efforts to get the MP from Surrey, B.C., onside.

The Liberals subsequently squeaked through the budget vote.

The Grewal tapes provide an almost unprecedented glimpse into Parliament's backroom dealings. While illuminating, they do not reflect well on anyone involved.

Liberal claims that Grewal made the initial approach on behalf of himself and his wife Nina, also a Tory MP, appear to be corroborated by parts of the transcripts, which are incomplete.

The Liberals also released a letter Tuesday from an intermediary, Sudesh Kalia, stating it was Grewal who made the initial approach. In return, Kalia wrote, the Grewals sought a United Nations posting, Senate seat or cabinet post.

The transcripts of Grewal's tapes clearly show at least two of those options were seriously discussed by Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, Martin's chief of staff.

The trick, as both men told Grewal, was to delay the quid pro quo until sometime after the crucial budget vote was won. Dosanjh suggested it should

be "two or four weeks" later, while Murphy referred to the case of former Tory Scott Brison, who was rewarded with a parliamentary secretary's position weeks after crossing to the Liberals in December 2003.

"What you are looking to be able to do, right, was to play an ongoing important role, an elevated role, right?" Murphy asked Grewal in one taped telephone conversation.

"And you know, I think, what I'm saying is obviously if someone does (defect) out of conviction and courage like you are, the person plays an elevated role."

In another conversation, Murphy discusses the practical difficulties of finding a Senate opening in B.C.

"I understand what you are saying in terms of wanting some sense of security for your wife and that is understandable," Murphy told Grewal. He added that the Liberal party "is a welcoming mat that has a lot of nice comfy fur on it."

Yet Dosanjh and Murphy repeatedly stressed that Grewal's defection needed to be sold as a selfless act.

"I think as you will see the PM will say we are not offering and making no offers," said Dosanjh. "And I think that is the narrative, we have to stick to it."

Murphy spells it out clearly:

"The first question people will ask you is, 'Well, what were you promised, did you seek it out or did they seek you, were you promised anything, did you ask for something.' I think we want the answer to all those questions to be 'no.' "

Dosanjh said Tuesday the transcripts are suspect and include material translated from Punjabi. "I want the translation authenticated, I want the audio authenticated," said the minister.

The New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois have asked Parliament's ethics commissioner to look into the affair.

ONLINE

Audio files and transcripts of Tory MP Gurmant Grewal's taped conversations with Tim Murphy and Ujjal Dosanjh can be accessed on Grewal's website: www.gurmantgrewal.ca